Challengers of a new state law expanding the procedures optometrists can perform in Arkansas have asked the Arkansas Supreme Court to intervene in their effort to put a referendum regarding
on the November 2020 ballot.
Safe Surgery Arkansas filed a lawsuit Aug. 13 asking the Arkansas Supreme Court to require the Secretary of State's Office to count thousands of voter signatures they turned in. They're also asking that the referendum on Act 579 be placed on the ballot. A court date had not been set as of Aug. 27.
The legal appeal comes after Secretary of State John Thurston said thousands of voter signatures the ballot issue group collected and turned in would not be counted due to an election law change earlier this year by
The ballot issue group turned in a total of 84,114 voter signatures. They needed 53,492 valid signatures to trigger a referendum.
Act 376, the new election law, requires sworn statements from paid canvassers be submitted to the Secretary of State's Office before they collect signatures. (Paid canvassers are supposed to declare they have not been convicted of illegal offenses that would prohibit them from collecting signatures).
Previously, the sponsor could file the canvasser statements at the same time they turned in voter signatures.
In the lawsuit, Safe Surgery Arkansas is also challenging Act 376, saying it's unconstitutional.
Meanwhile, the Arkansas Board of Election Commissioners certified the referendum's ballot title earlier this month, reflecting a change in roles for them after Act 376 shifted that responsibility from the Attorney General's Office to the appointed board.
The new initiative process has resulted in the measure being rejected by the Secretary of State's Office while being certified by the Board of Election Commissioners.
Board of Election Commissioner's New Role
The seven-member Board of Election Commissioners has historically provided education and training to county officials and election officials to help carry out elections. They have also investigated election complaints.
The board saw its role expanded under Act 376 to certifying statewide ballot issues. The new election law requires the Secretary of State's Office to submit the ballot title to the board for certification after signatures are submitted. Certification involves the board deciding whether a measure's ballot title and popular name are:
- Presented in a way that is not misleading
- Designated in a way that voters understand a vote "for" the issue would be a vote in favor of the matter and an "against" vote would be a vote against the issue.
In the case of the referendum on Act 579, a "for" vote would keep the law in place. An "against" vote would void the law. Board staff said the referendum title accurately described the measure and Commissioners voted Aug. 19 to certify the ballot title.
A spokeswoman for Arkansans for Healthy Eyes, optometrists who support keeping Act 579 in place, told the
after the vote that they believed the "referendum process ended two weeks ago, when the secretary of state rejected more than 60,000 unlawfully solicited signatures as invalid."
If necessary, the spokesman told the newspaper the group would challenge the ballot title as being insufficient.
Safe Surgery Arkansas asked the court for an expedited hearing, and for the law at the center of the referendum to be put on hold until the issue is resolved by the court or by voters.
The court has said responses to all pending motions would be due by 5 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 28.